It’s no head-shaker that a campaign was launched just a few years ago to declare baseball’s opening day an official holiday, right up there with July 4th and Labor Day. The national pastime is, indeed, just that — a uniquely American sport and beloved treasure.
Such is the sport’s popularity that CBS News reported in 2014, when the holiday campaign was in full swing that, “According to Major League Baseball, more than 22 million people over the age of 21 have admitted to playing ‘hooky’ to get out of work or other commitments to attend an Opening Day game.” Our gut tells us that even that massive number is too modest to reflect reality.
And Atlanta gives no quarter to any other city in its embrace of the American Game, it seems. As a result, it was no surprise that an underlying sense of urgency hung lower in the air than ominously gray storm clouds that skittered over the SunTrust Park site late last week, a few days after MLB’s official Opening Day last Sunday.
Last Thursday afternoon, the stadium and its environs were still very much an active construction site even as a few gawkers wandered the new sidewalks around the site’s perimeter. The beep-beep warning chirps of big machinery on the move drowned out the white noise that incessantly marks the passage of vehicles on nearby I-285.
In but a few days, the Atlanta Braves’ official home opener will be upon us. More importantly, the game will crack to life the team’s beginning in a new stadium.
A new sports arena is noteworthy in most any town large or small. But we’d suggest the coming-online of SunTrust Park has some Atlanta-style twists to its story.
The decamping of the Braves from Turner Field and the city of Atlanta was a civic shocker in many quarters, given the venue’s relative newness and Olympic history. And there was a reason why some wags suggested the team put the “Atlanta” part of its name in quotation marks. The Braves’ move up I-75 took them outside the city’s limits and into a busy corner of Cobb County. So it was natural that the old urban-suburban rift here became heated at times when the Braves were discussed.
When the game that is the back-and-forth of negotiations and politicking was over, Cobb County had offered the Braves a deal that their business office could not refuse — even if the taxpayer-funded end of the financing package left many with hard feelings. Cobb County was certainly not the only government entity to realize that playing in the big league doesn’t come cheap these days.
That was then. The now and the near-future are evident in the ballyard and surrounding development that have sprung up in a corner of I-285 and I-75. SunTrust Park and the project known as The Battery Atlanta are emblematic of metro Atlanta’s spirit and style in some important ways — especially with final touches still underway.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has joked that a construction crane is really Atlanta’s official symbol — not the mythical phoenix. And, like most any spot of the metro area these days, cranes, bulldozers and other building equipment were busy at the Braves’ new home last week. Rain-squishy sod was still so new that the gaps showed between pieces. Orange warning cones and barrels were still here and there as hard-hatted workers scrambled about.
Metal detectors and shiny new black iron fencing guarded the Left Field entrance to the field. A facsimile of a Delta Air Lines jet’s vertical tail stabilizer marked the carrier’s new parking deck at the stadium. New pine straw was underfoot. Even empty, the rows of seats inside silently spoke of the days and times soon to come for the new venue.
The housing units still being built hard by the stadium’s walls speak to the coming density headed for this snippet of the suburbs. It is a recognition in concrete and timber that the great majority of metro Atlantans live outside the city proper. It’s impossible for that to be otherwise in a metro area that encompasses 28 counties by widest measure.
When it comes to the American spirit that plays out on baseball fields like those trod by the Braves, we all call the team Atlanta’s own — no matter where we live. That is perhaps the greatest good thing about big-time sports — their ability to, however briefly, unify us all around a common, positive passion. Such opportunities are fewer than they should be in this era when human interaction seems to grow nastier and more-argumentative with each sunrise.
As we wrote earlier this year after The Atlanta Falcons completed a dizzying, heartbreaking run for a Super Bowl win, sports matter perhaps the most because of their ability to make us see that common ground is still all around us, no matter who we voted for — or where we live.
Seen that way, the sunrise of SunTrust Park is an important milestone for greater Atlanta. And we wish the team a great season — this year and beyond.